Monday, October 25, 2010

Study on Women Donors Presents Lessons for Board Recruitment

A study released this week by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy showed that women are the largest donors. They give more in actual dollars and they give more frequently than men. This is a reality that holds true regardless of the women’s own economic status; and, the disparity of giving increases with the individuals’ income. For instance, 35.2 percent of women who earn $23,509 or less annually make charitable contributions, opposed to 27.5 percent of men who earn at that same level. When income rises to at least $103,000, 96 percent of women give to charity, while only 75 percent of men of similar means give. The results, culled from a sample of 8,000 American households, also revealed that women typically give because they care about the work that is being done. Men tend to give because they are asked.

This study is already shaking up many who have traditionally turned to powerful men in the community for large financial commitments. However, it should also shake up those who are recruiting for boards of directors. According to the Urban Institute study, “Nonprofit Governance in the United States: Findings on performance and accountability from the first national representative study” by Francie Ostrower, while women make up almost half of all boards in the US (46 percent), they tend to be found on the boards of smaller organizations – typically organizations with budgets under $100,000. The percentage of women serving on the largest (budgets of $40 million plus), most prestigious boards is only 29 percent.

One reason for the above may be that, according to Ostrower’s findings, women often do not make the cut when organizations use financial skills and reputation in the community (“affluence and influence”) as recruiting criteria. If board members are expected to be among the biggest and most committed givers, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute’s study should cause us to question whether organizations are shooting themselves in the foot when they actively solicit more men than women.

Perhaps of even more import is the difference the study found in why people give. Will Brown’s work shows that belief in the mission is the most important factor related to board performance. Conversely, Candace Widmer, in a now classic study, found that joining a board because a friend asks is a temporary incentive and provides neither ongoing rewards nor participation. So, unless the organization is quickly able to provide these board members with other, more meaningful incentives, they will not stay involved. Does it not make more sense, therefore, to recruit those who are already motivated by what the organization is doing? We now know empirically, this means recruiting more women with a demonstrated interest in our organization’s mission.

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